We’re well into the new year and you may have started to lose momentum on those New Years’ intentions you set a few weeks ago. Before you get down on yourself, know that this is not only normal, but it’s possible to continue to stay motivated and engaged in whatever intentions or goals you set for yourself. A great way to do that is by finding grace.
What is grace?
Google the term grace and you’ll be shown a litany of religious, spiritual, and archaic meanings. These run the gamut from “unmerited divine assistance,” to “mercy or pardon,” and “ease and suppleness,” or “simple elegance and refinement of movement.”
While the word grace has many different connotations depending upon the context, for this article, we’re exploring grace as a vehicle to be kind and gentle to ourselves as we move about through life. It’s so easy to come down on ourselves whenever we make mistakes, which is simply a part of being human and is a wonderful learning tool, or when we are less-than-perfect in certain areas of our lives. Maybe the laundry has piled up for a few weeks. Maybe our bills haven’t been paid. Maybe we’ve put off going to the dentist for a few months or even a few years. The second we come down on ourselves, though, it becomes all the harder to change course and take the little steps necessary to change our behavior. That’s precisely where grace comes in.
Giving ourselves grace can help us make small, sustainable changes that help support our long term goals, mental health, and well-being.
I spoke to author B.J. Fogg last year about why we so frequently fail at what we earnestly set out to do each new year. Fogg is a behavioral scientist who runs Stanford University’s Behavior Design Lab and after studying and working with nearly 40,000 people in his lab, and putting many of his findings together in the book, Tiny Habits, Small Changes That Change Everything, he’s a huge advocate for finding grace in the things that might be challenging.
“You need to focus on creating habits for what you want rather than things you feel like you should have,” he says.
Professor Lori Santos, the “Professor of Happiness,” at Yale University, seconded this thought, especially as it pertains to finding happiness and grace in every moment, whether it’s good or bad. In our interview about happiness last winter she said, “Happiness is really about our mindset and the way we think about other things. Things beyond ourselves. Happiness isn’t about self, self-self, but in reality, it’s about being connected, grateful, and open to the world.”
In a word, finding happiness is about finding grace.
Little habits that help cultivate grace
The trick with both habits and finding grace is that the behaviors need to be small, repeatable, and easy enough to do (and celebrate) as we do them.
To use Fogg’s analogy that he says changed his life, floss just one tooth.
“Flossing one tooth was my one tiny habit,” Fogg says, “It was at a time when my life was very hard, where financially things weren’t going well. I looked in the mirror, flossed my tooth and thought, ok, you got one thing right today — good job. It was that that led to the idea of celebration, or shine, that really opened the door, to how to truly make changes that last.”
As Fogg illustrates, tiny habits work because in the moment that you do them, you find joy and grace. You can celebrate the small things — no matter how tiny — and that experience can bring joy into your life.
Here are a few suggestions for things you can try to cultivate grace in the moment and make some new healthy habits:
Start your morning on a peaceful note
Rather than reaching for your phone when you wake up in the morning, try reading one passage, or just one sentence in a book. Pick something that is meditative, inspiring, thought-provoking, or spiritual that can help you set the tone for the day. When we first wake up, our minds are highly suggestible and malleable. Bombarding yours with social media or the news might set you on the wrong anxiety-driven path for the day. Try a different approach and see what happens.
Sit and follow your breath for one complete round of breath. Then see what happens next. Do you continue to follow it? Do you move on? No matter what happens celebrate the fact that you followed one complete round of breath.
Overwhelmed by a messy room or house? Tackle just a bit of it. Pick one song and play it while you clean. Once that one song is over, you can stop cleaning. Mission accomplished! (and things got picked up, too).
Take one step outside
Been inside on Zoom meetings all day long? Take one step outside your door and just see what happens. You might just stand there and take in a fresh breath, looking at the clouds, feeling the rain or snow if it’s cold, seeing the sun or the stars. Feel the wind. Celebrate that you took one step outside today.
Music is magic
Play music at full volume (Within reason. You don’t want to hurt your ears or anger your neighbors!). Soundwaves not only affect our ears, but they also affect our bodies and minds. Just listening to a song on full volume (whether happy, sad, angry, upset) can change your whole perspective on life. It can change the way you carry yourself and how you act. It can also get you moving if you let the rhythm take over. Dance, sing, yell, but whatever it is, let the music move you.
Wash off stress and negativity
Take a shower. I know it seems really basic, but try this the next time you’re angry or upset with someone: Instead of continuing to argue, head to the bathroom, close the door, turn on the water, and step in. Really focus on the sense of the water running down your body. Feel its warmth. Let it take any of your heavy emotions away and wash them down the drain.
Trying to break a “bad” food habit? This one comes from Fogg’s list of 100 recipes for tiny habits: When you go to the kitchen or the fridge (or wherever your “bad” food lives) and before you grab it, touch the healthiest thing in the space. See what happens. Maybe by the time you’ve dug the celery out of the bottom drawer, your desire for something that doesn’t support your goals will have subsided.
Find one good thing
Trying to start a journaling habit? Start by writing down one thing that happened today that you are grateful for. That doesn’t mean you have to sugarcoat it, however. Maybe you had an argument with your loved one or spouse, but perhaps, as you worked through it, they put aside their anger and showed you compassion. You can be grateful that your boss didn’t yell at you today, or that your kids made it through the entire day without arguing. Whatever it is, take that gratitude in and truly feel it.
Sometimes in a tough moment, we want to revert to our four-year-old selves and simply curl up on the floor and take a nap. The truth is that sleep is where our bodies do the most of their rejuvenating and restorative work. Set a clock for 30 minutes during your lunch hour and let yourself just lie in bed. Maybe you’ll nap, maybe you’ll just stare at the ceiling. Either way, you’re doing something that serves your needs.
Change your P.O.V.
Try this the next time you’re feeling a bit out of sorts, blue, or just need to shake things up: Change your physical perspective. Lie on the floor. Bend over and touch your toes. Do a downward dog for three breaths. Take child’s pose. Whatever you do, change the way you look at the world, a different perspective can make a world of difference when you’re feeling stuck.
While these are just a handful of different ways to find grace and joy and create lasting habits that can change your life, the key thing about them all is that they help get us out of our heads. These activities connect us to the present moment in the real world and can help us shake up our point of view, habits, and even thought patterns to make room for new, and positive experiences.
The trick with each of these activities is to celebrate the moment you do them. The reinforcement of positive behavior through positive emotion can help make these habits stick. These new activities and behaviors can also offer opportunities for new ways to cope with difficult situations, and open up new ways of being in the world no matter what kind of craziness is going on. Finding happiness means finding ways to tap into the grace that surrounds us every day. There are plenty of opportunities for grace in the modern world, even if you might have to look a bit harder to find it.